LAS VEGAS -- The U.S. Justice Department will aggressively protect the civil liberties, voting rights and safety of Latinos in the United States, Attorney General Eric Holder promised during a Saturday address at the National Council of La Raza Convention in Las Vegas.
Holder also offered a specific warning to Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, and any agency wanting to emulate Arpaio’s efforts to round up and expel undocumented immigrants at any cost.
“These policies simply have no place in responsible law enforcement, and they must not and simply will not be tolerated as long as I am attorney general of the United States,” Holder said.
The statement drew cheers.
In May, the Justice Department filed a lawsuit against Arpaio and Maricopa County alleging a pattern of racial profiling, harassment and civil liberties violations directed by Arpaio in Phoenix-area Latino neighborhoods. The suit seeks a federal monitor to oversee the sheriff's department.
Holder's promise came two weeks after the Supreme Court delivered what many legal analysts consider a split decision that may affect the lives of millions of Latinos. The court declared three provisions of Arizona's state-level immigration enforcement law, SB1070, unconstitutional, but allowed the law's so-called "papers, please" provision to stand.
The provision, which requires officers to inquire about the immigration status of anyone they suspect of being undocumented, is now on hold while a lower federal court reviews it. However, civil rights advocates say if it is implemented, SB1070 and laws like it in other states could subject millions of Latinos to frequent profiling by police, illegal arrests and detentions.
In Arizona, 30 percent of the population is Latino.
Holder’s promise also came just two weeks after Congress voted to hold him in criminal contempt. Holder has refused to turn over documents related to Fast and Furious, an investigation that attempted to track guns purchased in the United States then funneled to violent drug cartels in Mexico. One of these guns was later found at the scene of a shootout where an American law enforcement officer died. The precise role Justice Department officials of Fast and Furious played in making the gun available remains unclear. Holder is the first sitting cabinet secretary in U.S. history to face a contempt charge.
Holder has said that the charge is motivated by disdain inside the Republican-controlled Congress for the types of cases the Justice Department pursues.
On Saturday, Holder told NCLR members that since 2009, the Justice Department has brought more hate-crime cases involving violent or dangerous displays of racial or ethnic bias than all eight years of the Bush administration.
The agency’s civil rights division has forced financial firms to pay record fines. The companies, including Bank of America-owned Countrywide Financial, engaged in systematic and deliberate practices that left at least 200,000 black and Latino homebuyers with higher-cost loans than white Americans with similar incomes and credit scores. The loans put black and Latino homebuyers at greater risk of losing their homes to foreclosure.
Since 2010, more than 30 states have considered or passed laws that could require voters to produce state-issued and valid photo identification in order to cast a ballot. The department will contest the policies in court, and refuse to grant approval in others if they have a disparate impact on black and Latino voters, Holder said. The Department of Justice will face the State of Texas in federal court Monday in one such case.
“Like many of you I was raised in a family, in a community, of immigrants,” said Holder, whose father and maternal grandparents immigrated to the United States from Barbados.
“I understand that despite the transformative progress that has been made, our nation's struggle to eliminate injustice and overcome disparities continues. We have further to travel on the road to equality.”